I am currently in the midst of the “research” phase of my Kenan Fellowship in which one of my goals is to learn what makes a modern globally networked workplace tick.  I have been interacting (“reaching out” in the local lingo) with a variety of people both on this Cisco Systems campus and in other campuses around the world.  I’ve been able to use a lot of cool technology to do it, but the really impressive part is the people and the culture, not the tools.

What I’ve learned about Cisco Systems, which may be true for other 21st century companies, is that much of their business takes place in meetings.  Moreover, the purpose of the meetings is often to find the answer to a question or problem by bringing together the person(s) seeking the answer and the person(s) with the knowledge (or connections).  This is a wholly different philosophy than the one we typically see in education.  Our meetings generally serve the purpose of disseminating information or (less often) collecting opinions.  They are “pyramid-shaped” affairs with a leader at the top giving or receiving information.

By contrast, Cisco’s meetings (which often happen via teleconference, videoconference, or shared desktop) are about the lateral exchange of information.  Colleagues connect with colleagues to seek out information or to get the name of someone else who can help.  These meetings are relatively short (less than an hour) and remarkably productive.  This might have been the biggest moment of culture shock for this classroom teacher over my entire stay at Cisco.

While their corporate mission statement lists “Tech Agnostic” as one of the company’s priorities, there is no denying that they are a networking technology business.  Looking at their new products, however, gives insight into what networked professionals need to do their jobs.  One such tool is a sort of combination of Ning, wikis, and Twitter that connects members of a large organization and gives them space to collaborate.  Now, there are plenty of free tools that do similar things, and I am certainly not a Cisco shill, but this product has one cool feature that I found interesting.

Members of the network get “tagged” with labels that describe what they know about.  This starts with your job description and includes any tags that you manually add to the system.  Then, the software tracks the things that you write in all of the various corners of the network and automatically applies more tags based on what you seem to know.  Every member gets a rating in dozens of topics that quantify that person’s expertise in that area.

Other users can seek out those with knowledge that they need by filtering based on expertise.  It’s a method that taps the power of a network (and its members) and the best of what technology can offer to this problem.  It’s a capability that I hope to see in more software in the near future.

Do you see value in quantifying expertise?  Would you pay for this capability?

One thought on “Kenan Update: Networking and Expertise

  1. I’d pay for it Paul. In a minute.

    How cool is it that the software automatically tracks and tags the influential individuals in separate areas?

    I do that manually all the time—-and I’m sure that I’m missing experts all the time, too. More importantly, my manual attempts at expertise tracking are not very fine-grained at all.

    While I could generate a list of assessment experts in my network, I couldn’t tell you who has interesting grading systems, who is using technology to make assessment easier, or who is working on new reporting systems to keep parents informed of progress.

    If technology could do all of that for me, it would make me far more efficient than I already am, and efficiency is my primary goal right now. I need to be able to access information and ideas as quickly as possible so that I can make informed choices about my next steps based on my knowledge of the local context.

    Cool indeed.

    Thanks for sharing,


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